|Book of the Month|
|Our Marvelous Native Tongue|
Even native users occasionally get frustrated with the English language. If the plural of 'house' is 'houses' why should the plural of 'mouse' be 'mice'? And why does 'quite' mean 'somewhat' and also 'exactly'? There are hundreds of such strange quirks in English, and author Robert Clairborne does a good job of explaining many of them in a book which he himself describes as 'a love letter to the English language'. For this author, the many odd twists and turns that English has taken over the centuries makes English fascinating rather than frustrating. (Do you know that 'midwife' comes an old English word for 'collaborator' and originally had nothing to do with wives or childbirth?) English is perhaps the richest and most expressive language on the planet, and this book explains - with many examples - how this happened.
The book is basically a history of the English language in eleven chapters, but this excludes the first chapter entitled 'The importance of speaking English'. Here the author explains what every English language student knows. English is the second language of the world; there are more English-speakers with a different mother tongue than there are native English speakers. He also makes other points – for example one of the problems with English vocabulary is the use of the same word for very different things. For example is 'crook' one word or several, since a 'crook' is a verb meaning 'to bend', and also a criminal and a shepherd's staff? So when counting the number of words in the language, is 'crook' one or three? He also points out that many 'English' words which - for example - the French say is polluting their language came originally into English from France.
Who is this book for? This is certainly not a book for English learners, since the grammar and vocabulary are advanced. However if you are the kind of person who learns words more easily if you know the origin this book will help. (The author explains he became fascinated with words when he discovered that 'siege' means 'sit' in French, and 'siege' has its meaning in English because the army sits around a city it is attacking.) Certainly every teacher should read this book, not only because it has some strong opinions on how English should be taught, but because it is full of little details about the history of English which will make lessons more interesting.
|Verdict: The history of English and more
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